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Less Than 15 Percent of State Residents Know of Fiscal Stability Commission’s Work; Legislature Has Yet to Act on Recommendations

Nearly 9 in 10 Connecticut residents are either not aware of, or not sure they know of, the work of the Connecticut Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, a panel of primarily state business leaders appointed by the state legislature and Governor last year to help the state grapple with its ongoing fiscal challenges.

The Commission held three months of hearings and issued a comprehensive 119-page report, described as “a bold ‘Plan for Connecticut,’” on March 1. The plan included 10 “major recommendations,” including proposed changes in spending, tax policy, investments, infrastructure, transportation and competitiveness.
Under state law, the legislature was required to draft legislation containing its recommendations. The legislature adjourns on May 9, and has yet to take any action on the report or recommendations. House Bill 5580, which would have the state Office of Policy and Management conduct an analysis of the recommendations, was approved by the Appropriations Committee on April 5 and awaits a vote in the House of Representatives.

The 14-member Commission, co-chaired by James Smith, Chairman and Former CEO of Webster Bank, and Robert Patricelli, Founder and CEO of several healthcare companies, was established with much fanfare late last year. It was created as part of the state budget approved last October, and was appointed to “develop and recommend policies to achieve state government fiscal stability and promote economic growth and competitiveness within the state.”

Connecticut residents were asked about the Commission’s work as part of the InformCT Consumer Confidence Survey. The survey found that 73 percent of respondents said they were not aware of the Commission’s work, and another 15 percent were not sure if they knew about it. Only 13 percent said they were aware of the work of the Commission.

Of those who indicated they were aware of the Commission’s work, nearly half (44 percent) said they are in general agreement with the Commission’s recommendations. Just under a quarter (23 percent) said they were not. Nineteen percent of respondents said they were not sure if they agreed with the recommendations and 14 percent said they did not know what the recommendations are, although they were aware of the Commission’s existence.

“The members of the Commission put significant effort and resources into proposing what they collectively viewed as actions that would help Connecticut achieve fiscal stability and encourage economic growth,” said Robert Santy, Chair of InformCT and President & CEO of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. “It appears that despite their efforts, the lack of high profile, vigorous public debate on their recommendations has left most Connecticut residents unaware of them – good, bad or otherwise. Commission leaders continue efforts to educate residents through meetings and interviews, so over time the level of awareness could grow,” Santy said.

Santy noted that of the 13 percent who responded that they were aware of the Commission’s work, 44 percent said they were in agreement with the recommendations. But the small number who knew about the Commission’s efforts makes it impossible to know whether state residents more broadly would concur with the recommendations.

Commission members have made a strong effort to build public awareness of the critical issues Connecticut faces, and recommended solutions to them, through numerous public meetings and speaking engagements across the state.  They have also been working closely with the leadership and other key legislators in an effort to advance legislation that would address issues raised by the Commission’s report.
InformCT is a public-private partnership that provides independent, non-partisan research, analysis, and public outreach to help create fact-based dialogue and action in Connecticut. The survey, conducted quarterly since 2015, is administered by researchers from the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, Inc. and Smith & Company.

The Commission, which met eight times between December and February and heard testimony from approximately 50 individuals or organizations from across the state, was required to study and make recommendations regarding state revenues, tax structures, spending, debt, administrative and organizational actions and related activities, including relevant municipal activities, to:

  • Achieve consistently balanced and timely budgets that are supportive of the interests of families and businesses and the revitalization of major cities within the state, and
  • Materially improve the attractiveness of the state for existing and future businesses and residents.

The legislature conducted a public hearing on the report and recommendations on March 23. Members of the Commission, in addition to Smith and Patricelli, included Pat Widlitz (Vice-Chair), Former state representative from Guilford and Co-Chair of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Finance, Revenue and Bonding; Bruce Alexander, Vice President of State Affairs and Campus Development at Yale University; Cindi Bigelow, Third generation family CEO of Bigelow Tea; and Greg Butler, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Eversource Energy.

Also serving on the Commission were Roxanne Coady, Founder and CEO of R.J. Julia Booksellers; David Jimenez, Partner at Jackson & Lewis and a member of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education; Jim Loree, President and CEO of Stanley Black & Decker; Paul Mounds, Vice President for Policy at the CT Health Foundation; Chris Swift, Chairman and CEO of The Hartford; Frank Alvarado, Veterans Affairs Officer, Small Business Administration; Eneas Freyre, New York Life and Michael Barbaro, President, Connecticut Realtors.

The online survey of 505 state residents was conducted in April 2018 has a margin of error of 4 percent.